When Was Jesus Born?

The tradition for December 25th is actually quite ancient. Hippolytus, in the second century A.D., argued that this was Christ's birthday. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Church, January 6th was the date followed.

But in the fourth century, John Chrysostom argued that December 25th was the correct date and from that day till now, the Church in the East, as well as the West, has observed the 25th of December as the official date of Christ's birth.

Though the gospels of Matthew and Luke both give an account of Christ’s birth, neither one provides a date for this great event. Though it may sound strange to our modern minds, it is likely that early Christians did not place any particular value on birthdays. This makes it hard to conclude when Jesus was really born.

It was not until the third century that various pockets of Christians began to show interest in the date of Christ’s birth, and it would take another century for the Church to begin celebrating it with some uniformity.

To learn more read this excerpt from "When Was Jesus Born and Why Do We Use December 25th?"
 

What’s So Important about Birthdays?

What is it that birthdays celebrate? I think there is a simple answer to that…

Birthdays celebrate beginnings, and the celebration of Christmas is both a birthday and a beginning in more ways than one.

Christmas marks a first breath, in the way that every one of our birthdays mark the first day that a member of our family lived outside the womb. But Christmas also marks the beginning of a story … the earthly story of heavenly redemption.

Christmas is the day that the Christian church has chosen to mark or celebrate the birth of Christ, the incarnate beginning of the Son of God. He is God eternal, so we need to note that he had no beginning and will have no end. It’s clearly not something we can understand fully, but it is something that God’s Word states, so we must believe it and trust in it along with the rest of the mystery of creation, salvation and eternity.

There was a day when Christ was born, sometime over 2000 years ago. It is unlikely to have been the 25th of December, but it is as good a day as any. But why celebrate? That’s still the question isn’t it?

How you think about dates and birthdays depends on where you are in the world and when you existed in history. We don’t see dates like June 5th or October 11th written in the Bible. But there are intricate family trees and clear references to actual points in history, such as the reigns of kings and emperors. So, we do know that the account of the nativity is factual because it directly refers to the rule of Caesar Augustus and Quirinius the Governor of Syria. Just because there isn’t an actual date printed in the pages of your Bible doesn’t mean that the story of Jesus’ birth didn’t happen.

Different cultures, tribes, and even families look at birthdays in different ways. If you live in Holland, for example, your birthday is one of the most important dates of the year. It takes precedence over any other celebration. However, if you live in the country of Cambodia you probably don’t really celebrate birthdays until you are past fifty. Although children there do celebrate being one year older, they all celebrate it at the same time at Cambodia's New Year, which falls in April.
 

The History of Jesus’ Birthday

In Bible times it was possibly similar. You may not have celebrated your birthday until there was something very definite to celebrate. When a child’s life was not so secure due to sickness and disease, it is likely that a family did not want to mark the passing of the years until the child was older.  

Birthdays, as we understand them, were not something a poor Nazareth family would have been able to afford. With four brothers, at least three sisters, and the likely early death of their father, Joseph, we are looking at a family who had other priorities. Jesus' actual birth date is not as important as the fact that he was born into this world as our incarnate Savior. 

This, I suppose, makes the whole Christmas hullabaloo quite ironic. Over time a date has arisen to celebrate the beginning of the life of someone who didn’t even have a place to lay his head. He was despised and rejected, and yet today his birthday is a period of twenty-four hours of indulgence.
 

Back to the Heart of the Celebration

We need to get back to realizing why we celebrate birthdays— and in particular HIS!

  • A birthday is a beginning...
  • His birthday is the beginning, the beginning of the Good News of salvation.
  • It’s the start of something real, the salvation of sinners.
  • We celebrate the birth, because it foreshadows a death, and then reveals a resurrection.

When Christmas comes, it is good to mark not the date, but the event. Do it on the 25th of December — everyone else is doing it then. But remember this day is about a birth and a death and eternal life.
 

Birthdays Are Worth Celebrating

It takes a child to really get excited about a birthday, doesn’t it? You know what I mean — really excited! Eyes-popping, breath-holding, jumping-up-and-down-on-the-spot excited.

Birthdays in my family took a bit of a back seat for a while until the next generation started to arrive. Now, no birthday in my family goes by un-noted. Every passing year gets marked by songs and celebration. No matter how old you are, how far you’ve traveled, whether you’re in the mood for the reminder or not — there’s a cake, a card, and a choir!

Many years on the 25th of July I’ve been sung to over the phone by very loud, raucous but surprisingly tuneful family members. I’ve been sung to by relatives in public places, even shops! My uncles would sing four-part harmony renditions of “Happy birthday to you” and could have hired themselves out professionally! But thankfully they didn’t. It might have ended up being rather expensive for them. Apparently, there were two Kentucky sisters who used to get paid a royalty every time the tune to that song was played on the radio or on film. Those two were probably raking it in!

One of my favorite photographs is of my dad enthusiastically opening his presents on his seventy-something birthday. My nieces and nephew had gathered all around. The light of candles reflecting in every single eye. A little granddaughter gazing adoringly, another eagerly anticipates what’s in the parcel even though she wrapped it herself moments before. The birthday cake in position and dad’s cheeks poised to huff and puff. All the kids were there to “help” him — it’s his birthday but it’s clearly their celebration.

Christmas is the only birthday celebration I know of where we don’t ceremonially blow out candles — I think that’s because the Light of the World has come and it won't be put out.


 

This article is part of our larger Christmas and Advent resource library centered around the events leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

What is Christmas? Understanding History, Origin and Traditions
When Was Jesus Born? History of December 25th
The Birth of Jesus: Bible Story and Scripture Verses
Christmas Bible Verses & Scripture Story
Christmas Prayers
Advent Prayers

Image credit: Crosscards.com